Home » Comments about Shep » JEAN SHEPHERD and Barnacles–Part 2 of 2 Parts

JEAN SHEPHERD and Barnacles–Part 2 of 2 Parts




Shep on the radio:

But being profligate has its advantages.  You do not find yourself burdened with junk.  There are some people who like to surround their lives with junk.  What was the name of those two guys who lived in this townhouse in New York, and they had their whole house filled with all the junk and crud and just absolutely nothing-stuff that they had collected all of their lives?  They couldn’t throw away a newspaper, an old sardine can, and they had everything piled up in this house until finally, there they were living in this cave and that’s all.  They had a hole hollowed out and it was getting smaller. [Laughs]  Yeah!  Remember that famous story? 

Well, you know, that’s only an extension of the way a lot of people are.  You go down to the basement of many people’s houses and you’re gonna find tennis rackets from 1910.  “You know, maybe one day I’ll get it restrung.”  Forget it.  You know, you find old lost hobbies.  People who can’t throw away stuff that they collected once when they were nine.  When they were making wooden canoes out of balsa wood and now they got pieces of balsa wood—“Never know, I may start that again, you know.  It’s a great hobby.”

So I—.  [Laughs]  I just throw everything out.  People—everything.

I like to clear my life out about every three years.  See, I tell everybody around me.  I say, “You know, the time for the chute is comin’ soon.”

They say, “What do you mean?”

I say, “Well, I have this chute.  And every three years I just reach over and grab ahold of the big old handle there—crank—bruuup!  brrrrrgg!  Down it goes!  Everybody.  Crash!  Oh!”  

And then I start over again.  It’s a great feeling, I’ll tell you.  Like—it’s like, you know, after you haven’t shaved for about a month and you take a shave.  You feel clean and lean.  Just wonderful.  I just wonder how many people out there would like to get rid of everybody in their life. [Pause]  We’re allowing you a few seconds to contemplate that glorious thought. [Pause, laughs]  Oh my god, [Laughing] I can see, you know, all over the Eastern Seaboard people are saying to other people, “What does he mean? [said in his little old lady voice]  This man makes no sense.”  And Charles is just sitting there saying, “Oh well, heh, you know [in embarrassed voice], he sure don’t.”  [Laughs] 

Oh, well.  But nevertheless you know, man was not born to have barnacles live on him.  Right?  Friends, there’s two kinds of people in this world.  There’s the sturdy ship bottoms, and then there’s the barnacles.  Which one are you?  A ship bottom—or a barnacle?  Everybody thinks, “Oh, I’m a ship bottom.” [Ha ha ha]  Oh yeah!  Listen, the louder you holler that, the more inclined and apt you are to be a real dedicated barnacle!  I’ll tell you that.  First of all, ship bottoms aren’t listening to this show—for starters. [Laughs] 

Shepherd continues, talking about his friend, George, who had a wife:

Talk about barnacles—I’ll tell you, she had shells growing on her.”

barnacles on skin

“Barnacles” on skin.

“She had shells

growing on her.”

 She nagged him about adding an addition on the house…. This should be a warning to you.  Should be a warning.  Now that doesn’t mean it will be.  Very few people take advantage of a real warning—it can be dangerous to do little things around the house.

Shep says a guy working on his house

…was out there banging away and he cut the wrong piece of wood and the whole back of the house just slowly settled like a balloon, you know, without any gas in it. [Laughs]

 So if you’ve got a barnacle living with you I suggest that you listen carefully to this terrible story.  He says that the house was nice, all right, and George’s wife.…got the playroom-rumpus-room bug.  George gave in to her, cut through walls of his house and encountered a giant nest of rattlesnakes…. And that ends tonight’s public-service salute to Norman Mailer and Philip Roth.

          mailer       philip roth

             MAILER  (barnacle?)                ROTH (barnacle?)

I suggest that the general tone of the above represents a Shepherd who may have been cold toward most of those around him.Might the “barnacle” description refer to his attitude toward his first wife of short duration and maybe to the mother of his two children.  In one of those comments he sometimes made that seemed to apply to his real attitudes, not his radio performance persona, on his January 22, 1976 show he commented, “I don’t ‘need people.’ I’m a lone type—you know that Barbra Streisand song, ‘People Who Need People’—I hold my own counsel.” Maybe aspects of this, as Larry Josephson suggested, represent an inseparable part of  what made Shepherd a genius.

Of his other two wives, Lois Nettleton apparently gave up trying to get from him enough emotional response and openness regarding his sneaky actions during their marriage, locking him out after about five years. Shepherd once mused about “Nesters and Movers,” which may also relate to his attitude toward being tied down. (He considered himself not a nester but a mover.)  Leigh Brown, who stuck by him through all kinds of grief, and to whom he was in later years devoted and on whom he was dependent and with whom he seemed to have enjoyed a mutually strong emotional bond, never left him during their thirty-five year relationship. She died the year before he did.




  1. mygingerpig says:

    To say that every three years he sheds his skin like a snake, and that with that skin goes all the relationships he acquired. But he did have long term relationships–Shel Silverstein was one, Iwrin Zwilling seems to have been another. So how would Shep explain why he let the Leigh barnacle stick to him for so long? I would say that they had a parasitic relationship, and he fed, Dracula-like, from her, and she from him. Without her, I would have withered and perhaps died, though I am sure he would not have admitted that to himself.

    • ebbergmann says:

      I’m always delighted to get your thoughtful responses. I know that Shel and Shep were best friends in the late 1950s and into at least the early 1960s, but I’ve never been able to find any references to Shep and Shel having any contacts with each other in the last three decades of their lives. Do you know of anything that would indicate their continuing contact? As for Mr. Zwilling, my understanding is that they were good, non-professional, friends from some time in the late 1970s at the earliest, and they never seemed to talk about any substantial topics, if I understand Zwilling’s comments. Thus, their good friendship (as important as it would seem to have been for Shep’s well-being) seems to have remained on what I’d describe as a rather superficial level. I’d love to find out from Zwilling if they got into serious/artistic matters–I’d hesitate to ask him ans I don’t want to seem disparaging. As for Shep and Leigh, as it was a mutual support relationship, it could be described as symbiotic.

  2. mygingerpig says:

    Zwilling said they talked about fishing and baseball, personal interests of Shep, but he had no interest of capacity to discuss professional matters. Zwilling said he knew little about Shep’s work. I am not sure if that is “superficial” but it is clear that the only intimate relationship he had for any length of time was with Leigh.

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